Y seeking special permit to tear down building, construct affordable housing

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photo. The YMCA of the North Shore is seeking a permit to tear down the Middle Street YMCA building, and build affordable housing for seniors there once the Cape Ann YMCA moves to its new facility at 7 Schoolhouse Road.

The YMCA of the North Shore is seeking a special comprehensive permit to allow demolition of the Cape Ann YMCA building in downtown Gloucester and construction of a new building. 

The permit would allow the Y to demolish its facility at 71 Middle St. to make way for a new building with 44 apartments for seniors age 62 years and older.

"We really don't want this building to remain vacant downtown," said Tara Mizrahi of Affirmative Investments Inc. during  a special meeting Thursday night of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The building at 71 Middle St., which was constructed in 1972, is a rough square with Middle and Hancock streets along its borders. 

If the permit is approved, the Y will turn the building into a "L" shape to accommodate a courtyard area planned in the back of the building. 

"There will be a nice vegetated area back there. There will be some walks, places to sit, planters that the residents can use," said Jennifer Hocherman of SV Design LLC, based in Beverly. 

As the current building does not hold to the aesthetic of downtown, Hocherman hopes that the new design does a better job.

"Our goal for the design is to relate to the neighborhood but not necessarily to mimic it exactly," Hocherman said. In addition to the courtyard, the designers will include additional landscaping along the sides of the building.

The new plan also incorporates an underground parking garage with 27 spaces. 

The first-floor plan for the new building shows a community center, office space, and meeting rooms near the front of the entrance. Further in, one-bedroom apartments line the remainder of the floor plan. 

The second- and third-floor plans are the same, with additional one-bedroom apartments and units that meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Building from the ground up

"Our real beginning of the YMCA housing that is known today really began right in Cape Ann, right at this site, right next door," said President and CEO of YMCA of the North Shore Chris Lovasco. 

In 1994, the first YMCA Affordable Housing Project came about as The Cape Ann Community Center at 67 Middle St. 

The center, as Lovasco's presentation outlined, "paved the way for our Y's involvement in affordable housing," and currently serves 23 individuals in single occupancy, 100% affordable units. 

"Once you learned how to do it once, it would be a crime not to do it more to provide more and more affordable housing," Lovasco said. "And that is exactly what we did."

By the end of 2021, the YMCA of the North Shore has completed nine affordable housing projects in four communities — serving over 500 individuals and families housed in 319 affordable units. 

As the Y plans to move its workout facility to 7 Gloucester Crossing Road, the soon-to-be vacant space in downtown is what Lovasco considers an ideal opportunity to give back to the community. 

"That project is a catalyst to something that is near and dear to our hearts, which is affordable housing," Lovasco said. "It has allowed us this opportunity."

Affordable housing, as the presentation cited, is one of the biggest challenges facing Gloucester residents, as more than half are housing cost burdened. The demand for senior housing is expected to rise as it is projected that by 2030, 58% of the city's households will be age 60 or older. 

For Lovasco, the housing proposal meets the YMCA's mission to strengthen communities. 

"We as the Y feel like we act as the agent between the state and the local community," Lovasco said. "We as the non-profit facilitating what hopefully is going to be an incredible investment and return for the community."

The hearing for the Y's special permit has been continued to the next Zoning Board meeting on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m/ 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.


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